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Hail to the Thief

Truth be told, there were no surprises Friday night at the SC Civic as grand piano man Christopher O'Riley glided through a complete set of Radiohead covers all by his lonesome. Anyone who loves Radiohead already knows that their music is rich with emotion and compositional complexity; couple that with a handsomely talented and self-proclaimed Radiohead geek whose obsession with the band falls just shy of full-fledged stalking, and you've got yourself a pretty sure bet for some good music. But of course there was still plenty of room for disaster, especially considering the overprotective reverence that fans of the band reserve for their prog-rock heroes. Would O'Riley totally blow it on the songs like "Subterranean Homesick Alien," "Everything in Its Right Place" and "Motion Picture Soundtrack"--all of which seem readily adaptable into solo piano compositions? Would he turn rockers like "Electioneering" into soothing accompaniment to grocery shopping or elevator rides? Would he cover "Creep?" And what in Sam Hill would he do with "Paranoid Android?"

He took the safe route with his opener, choosing the opener to Radiohead's first jizzworthy album (let the hardcore-fan grumbling begin!), OK Computer. The drama of the opening chords translated beautifully, but it was a bit shocking to hear Tom Yorke's voice as piano chords for the first time--he'd never sounded so much like Christmas! And O'Riley tinkered with the timing of the vocal part a bit (played mostly in the upper register with his right hand), which--grrrr!--was a little distracting. But for the most part he was as faithful as a grand piano player can be, and his tender, nuanced treatment of "Subterranean Homesick Alien" made his love for the music abundantly clear. His between-song banter was endearingly geeky, even encouraging us to sing along with "Karma Police"--one of the better transcriptions by the way, at least up until the crescendo--when, like a few other moments where he tried to go big, things got pretty darn muddy--especially if you don't have the album version playing along in your head. Note to aspiring Radiohead transcribers: "No Surprises" doesn't translate as well as Michael Stipe says it would. But "Motion Picture Soundtrack" and "Sail to the Moon" rivaled the real thing, which brings us to the melancholy ending of this review: O'Riley's project is chock-full of artistic merit, but where is the artistic value in making skillful yet inferior versions of Radiohead songs? Is he helping raise grand piano awareness among Radiohead fans? Is he helping raise Radiohead awareness among fans of classical music? Ten bucks and my signed copy of Kid A says he did it all to get backstage and give Tom a big fat noogy. Listen for yourself at www.truelovewaits.cc.

Nobody's Dirty Business

I think it was Mississippi John Hurt who once said that it "ain't nobody's dirty business" why Henfling's puts chairs out for a boot-stompin' The Devil Makes Three hoedown, but doggone it, he was wrong! Lots of their loyal fans love to whoop it up and jump around like hillbillies, which is why venues should never (but never!) have chairs set up in front of them. I mean they're fun to look at and all, but a sufficiently coordinated person can still see them even while dancing a heel-slapping jig. It's understandable that Henfling's was expecting an old-timer crowd to come see old-timey music--hence the chairs. But word around the Tavern is that next time the DMT hits Ben Lomond, there won't be nothing but fresh mountain air between the band and their barn-dancing fans, which is great news considering their batch of followers is growing exponentially. Could fame and fortune await an old-timey cowpunk trio from Santa Cruz? And did anybody else check out the new T-shirts designed by KOAK? Please, check out www.koak.net. You'll be pleasantly disturbed. To listen to DMT, visit www.monkeywrenchproductions.com.

Mike Connor

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From the August 13-20, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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